The Government is committed to reform of the State’s existing Workplace Relations Services. Shortly after entering office, I committed to a fundamental reform of the workplace relations system. The overall objectives are to promote harmonious and productive employment relationships and to encourage early resolution of disputes, the vindication of employees’ rights and minimisation of the costs involved for all parties - employers, employees and Government - in terms of money, time and workplace productivity.
I propose to establish a two-tier Workplace Relations structure which will involve two statutorily independent bodies replacing the current five. We will have a new single body of first instance to be called the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) and a separate appeals body, which will effectively be an expanded Labour Court. A significant amount of work has been completed on the preparation of the Workplace Relations Bill. Enactment of the Bill will necessitate amendments to 22 primary acts, 12 specified parts or sections of acts and 71 statutory instruments. My Department has been engaging with the AG's Office on an on-going basis to progress the drafting of the Bill and I am committed to the publication and enactment of the legislation at an early stage with a view to having the proposed new Workplace Relations structures in place during 2014.
In addition to the progression of the enabling legislation, much work has already been completed or is underway in relation to the enhancement of efficiency, effectiveness, business processes and technology, within the bodies concerned. This Government has also introduced a wide range of measures to establish and protect the employment rights of workers and to provide the policy, legislative and institutional framework within which good industrial relations prosper.
The Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act 2012, which commenced on 1 August 2012, provides for a radical overhaul of the statutory wage setting mechanisms and reinstates a robust system of protection for low paid and vulnerable workers in the aftermath of the 2011 High Court ruling in the John Grace Fried Chicken case. The 2012 Act provided for reviews of each Joint Labour Committee (JLC) to be carried out by the Labour Court. On 1 October, 2013, I published the Labour Court Report. I have accepted the recommendations contained in the Report and the Ministerial Orders to effect the recommendations are currently being drafted and I hope to be in a position to sign them shortly.
In May 2013, the Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional the framework for Registered Employment Agreements. This is clearly an important issue for many employers and their employees, particularly in relation to rates of pay and tendering for contracts and I intend to bring forward legislation to address the ruling as soon as possible. The Programme for Government contains a commitment to reform the current law on employees' rights to engage in collective bargaining, so as to ensure compliance by the State with recent judgments of the European Court of Human Rights. Discussions with stakeholders on the issue are on-going and I hope to be in a position to put proposals to Cabinet shortly.
This Government decision in 2011 to reverse the €1 per hour reduction in the National Minimum Wage introduced by the previous Government represents a significant commitment to protect the lowest paid and most vulnerable workers. The Protection of Employees (Temporary Agency Work) Act 2012, provides that equal treatment in terms of basic working and employment conditions must be applied to temporary agency workers in the same way as if they were directly recruited by the hirer to the same or similar job.
Migrant workers are a vulnerable class of people and careful consideration is given to the potential for abuse and many of the criteria in evaluating employment permits applications focus on the bona-fides of the employer and the protection of the employee. This feature of the employment permits regime will be preserved in the draft Employment Permits Bill which I envisage submitting to Government for approval at the earliest opportunity. The Bill as drafted will also provide, subject to Government approval, for amending legislation in order to provide a defence for the employee, following the result of the High Court Judgement of 31st August 2012 concerning Mr. Younis.
The introduction of these measures demonstrates this Government's commitment to deliver modern, user friendly and world class workplace relations services and to ensure optimum protection for the employment rights of workers.